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Visual Marketing: A Complete Guide (2020)

Sep 28, 2020 | Visual Marketing

The true power of visual marketing dates all the back to our cave days. Back then, we’d use earth pigments, dirt, and charcoal to paint pictures and tell stories to one another.

Today, visual content marketing gives brands like yours an avenue to connect with your audience, strengthen your narrative, and ultimately drive sales.

But, just what exactly is visual marketing and why does it work? How do the advantages stack up against the disadvantages? And what are some of the best visual marketing examples to take inspiration from?

In this guide, we shine a spotlight on the types of visual marketing available, the pros and cons, and the science behind why humans respond better to visual content. Finally, we’ll touch on some great examples of visual marketing as well as best practices. 

What is visual marketing?
Types of visual marketing
The science behind visual marketing
Advantages of visual marketing
Disadvantages of visual marketing
Visual marketing examples
Visual marketing best practices
Visual marketing meets visual commerce (the future)

What is visual marketing?

As a subset of content marketing, visual marketing focuses on connecting with your audience through visual media.

That’s your images, influencer assets, videos, and any other branded content.

While your competition may still be learning to fly with long-form blog articles, developing a visual marketing strategy gives you a way to make your brand stand out.

In fact, recent statistics show:

  • 75% of marketers drive better ROI when using visual content (Contently)
  • The top type of visual content B2C marketers use is social media (CMI)
  • Original graphics are the most helpful in reaching marketing goals (Venngage)

At its core, visual marketing is about communicating your brand values, messaging and wider narrative through images, videos, influencer assets, user-generated content, and other collateral. 

Sometimes known as ‘visual content marketing’, the creative approach enables you to foster relationships with your audience on a deeper, more emotional level. After all, it has been proven many times that humans respond better to nonverbal communication.

More specifically, visual marketing involves studying the relationship between an object, the context it is placed in, and its relevant image. Based on cognitive psychology, you can market your products and services more effectively through visual media. 

So, what’s the end goal?

To attract shoppers to your website, keep them engaged, and boost conversion rates. 

Types of visual marketing

There are several different forms of visual content you can take advantage of within your campaigns – and you can probably name quite a few of them already.

Here’s a snapshot of the most popular types of visual marketing:

Images and graphics

visual-content-example-adidas
(Adidas uses influencers to create visual content to promote its values and products)

Branded visual content, such as images or unique graphics, can be useful across a variety of different marketing mediums. This may be in the form of custom-made graphics, influencer photographs or even user-generated images.

Videos

(GoPro’s million dollar challenge, gaining tons of user-generated visual content)

A powerful way to capture attention and convey emotion, videos are one the most effective types of visual marketing for eCommerce brands. 

In fact, people all around the world engage much better with video content:

  • 54% of consumers want to see more video content from brands (HubSpot)
  • Including a video on a landing page can boost conversions by 80% (Unbounce)
  • 96% of shoppers find videos helpful when making purchase decisions (Animoto)

In the example above, GoPro takes full advantage of visual content to promote its products in its annual challenge – without ever mentioning the video cameras at all.

The brand’s user-generated contest footage provides the team with so much visual content that can be reused and repurposed for years to come – selecting the most authentic, high quality, and aspirational clips to connect with their community.

Infographics

visual-content-example-listerine
(Listerine uses
infographics to educate dentists and show the value of its products)

Despite being a very common form of visual content in the B2B sector, infographics can still drive results for retail and consumer products brands.

Of course, you’ll need to have a deep understanding of your audience in order to see success with this type of visual marketing.

For example, if you’re a womenswear brand that celebrates every shape and size of the female body, then you may find it impactful to communicate statistics and reports on body positivity and self-confidence through infographics to your audience. 

Alternatively, in the example above, Listerine breaks up text-heavy educational content targeted towards dentists with infographics. Visual content makes long-form resources much easier to digest and understand, ultimately supporting an increase in sales.

GIFs

visual-content-example-boohoo
(Boohoo uses GIFs to promote limited offers visually within its email campaigns)

GIFs are well and truly integrated into standard digital life nowadays.

In fact, many brands are able to humanize themselves by using GIFs as reactions to social media comments – injecting humor that consumers tend to lap up.

But they can also be used to attract attention and draw in visitors to your website.

Take, for example, Boohoo’s use of GIFs in its email campaigns. 

The fast fashion brand presents special offers and discounts through engaging GIFs, combined with prominent calls to action. The end goal? To prompt impulse purchases.

Banners

visual-content-example-dollashaveclub
(Dollar Shave Club plays with words and smooth backgrounds to create
visual banners)

A great way to combine visual media and a few words, banners give brands an effective way to attract attention to new products, offers and sales. 

The science behind visual marketing

Why is visual marketing important?

Simple.

Because your brain can process visual content in as little as 13 milliseconds.

That means your brain knows what you’re looking at 30 times faster than you can blink.

In fact, visual content nearly always results in better retention of information and comprehension. The use of such media has a profound impact on your brain’s ability to learn and process new information.

One particular study found the combination of visual imagery with a small amount of text helped to improve participants’ performance on a test by an average of 89%. 

As marketers, we can use this knowledge to create more impactful digital campaigns that lead to better results for our brand.

Ultimately, when you present your audience with visual content, you’re giving them something they can process faster and with less effort.

Changing consumer behaviour

Nowadays, we don’t have much tolerance for text.

According to a Nielsen report, which examined 60,000 website page views, most people only read 20-28% of the words on the page. Shocking, huh?

Not to mention 75% U.S. online shoppers will now always search for visual content before buying something online – while only 3% of the population has never done so. 

Visuals help people get to the point faster. 

And, with Generation Z processing words in a much quicker fashion than generations before them (spending just 4.4 seconds on every 100 words), visual marketing has never been more important to ensure the longevity of your brand.

Advantages of visual marketing

 While we’re sure you can guess a good few of these, here are some serious advantages to embracing a focus on visual marketing within your business:

1. Boost your website traffic

Visual assets are not necessarily always individual pieces of content. They can act as doorways to more valuable information, such as your website and product pages.

For example, you could take one large content asset and repurpose it into several smaller, snackable visuals to use across social media, in turn driving website traffic.

That’s not all though.

Images and videos – whether from your brand, influencers, or customers – perform extremely well across social platforms. And the more people who see your content, the more you’re likely to see an increase in website traffic.

2. Increase brand awareness

As social media platforms are inherently visual channels, it doesn’t take a genius to tell you nicely designed images and videos are likely to strike a chord with your audience. 

In other words, you can increase brand awareness through visual content on social media, communicating your brand values and narrative to give your audience something that they can connect with.

3. Strengthen emotional bonds with your audience

Visual content is one of the most effective mediums to communicate your brand’s story.

A visual narrative (also known as visual storytelling) is a story that is told through – yep, you guessed it – the use of visual media. Generally speaking, it may be made up of several moving parts like video, graphics, illustration, audio, photography, and so on.

While the term ‘visual storytelling’ is new in the eyes of Google, it’s important to remember that it’s not a new concept. In fact, it’s our oldest form of communication, dating back to our cave days.

An effective story encompasses five core elements:

  • Tension: Compel people to keep consuming the story
  • Entertainment: Hook them in within the first eight seconds
  • Education: Make the viewer feel more educated about the topic
  • Micro-interactions: Pay attention to the small things to ensure a seamless storytelling experience (e.g. movement of objects, dynamic adaptation, etc)
  • Call to action: Be clear on what you want your audience to do after consuming the visual content

(Eric Goodstadt & Sacha Reed, presentation at Content Marketing World)

Visual storytelling helps to strengthen your emotional bonds and deepen your relationships with your audience.

And it’s these elements that facilitate the free flow of satisfaction, trust, and loyalty.

4. Differentiate your brand from the competition

We don’t need to tell you that competition is fierce in the eCommerce industry. 

At a time when everyone is copying one another, visual marketing gives you an easy way to differentiate your content from every other brand you’re up against.

What’s more, visual media makes your content attention-grabbing, engaging and memorable. Not to mention the fact that appealing imagery also makes your brand much easier to recognise, which strengthens consumer trust and confidence.

5. Elevate your online engagement 

Humans respond to visuals much better than they do to words alone.

Not only does visual marketing lead to more creative website pages, email communications, and social media posts, but it’s also likely to give a much needed boost to your engagement metrics.

Whether that’s increasing time on site, social shares or email click throughs, visual content plays a key role in captivating the attention of your audience.

Ultimately, it fuels binge-worthy content experiences across your marketing channels.

Disadvantages of visual marketing

While we’ve proven the value of visual content marketing already, there are some potential disadvantages to this type of strategy that are worth keeping in mind:

1. It requires time and money

On the one hand, if you outsource the creation of your visual content then you save time. But on the other, the cost is likely to be high. And it’s the same vice versa.

Visual marketing requires sustained effort in order to be effective and drive results.

In other words, it’s a long-term strategy. A commitment to communicating your values, messaging and wider narrative through appealing and engaging visual media.

2. It’s difficult to measure beyond engagement

One of the biggest challenges to implementing a visual marketing strategy is being able to prove the return on investment – i.e. connecting it to direct sales impact.

While engagement metrics, such as likes, shares, time on page and time on site, are all good indicators of content performing well, marketing professionals everywhere struggle to determine the true financial return of their visual assets.

Largely speaking, this is because the technology hasn’t been available before. 

The good news is that with a visual commerce platform in place – which we’ll touch on a bit later – you can tie your visual content directly to your revenue goals.

Visual marketing examples

Below, we’ve shared our seven favourite examples of visual marketing.

1. Aerie – #AerieREAL campaign

A great example of visual marketing comes from Aerie, a sister store of clothing brand American Eagle, with its user-generated content campaign.

The fashion industry is infamous for its extreme photo editing and retouching – especially when it comes to photoshoots of young women in swimwear. And the worst thing? We all know it contributes to low body confidence among young adults.

To take a stand against this and promote body positivity among young women, lingerie brand Aerie launched its own #AerieREAL campaign, announcing a commitment to no longer retouching any models in its marketing materials.

And from its initial ads, came an influx of powerful user-generated visual content.

visual-marketing-example-aerie

When Aerie’s fans and advocates – or even anyone who wanted to join in and support the deeper cause – tagged a non-retouched photo of themselves in swimwear, the brand pledged to donate a dollar (up to $15,000) to the National Eating Disorders Association.

The company engages with these posts, encouraging others to share their story of what makes them #AerieREAL across Instagram and Twitter

visual-marketing-example-aerie

Today, the #AerieREAL campaign has transformed into a long-term visual marketing commitment, embracing its diverse customer base and empowering women to own what makes them unique.

2. Warby Parker – #WearingWarby campaign

Warby Parker is a popular American retailer of prescription eyewear, established in 2010. Today, the brand is worth about $3 billion.

And a chunk of its success is down to its use of visual content across social media.

A couple of years ago, the Warby Parker team decided to be a little more creative in their influencer marketing approach.

The brand worked with seven nontraditional influencers (i.e. people with established communities but without a constant stream of brand collaborations) to fuel its #WearingWarby sponsored posts series.

visual-marketing-example-warbyparker

The secret?

Each influencer was a real fan of the brand, and had already promoted Warby Parker in a few non-sponsored posts, without being asked. In turn, this gave a layer of authenticity and ‘realness’ to the brand and influencer collaboration.

visual-marketing-example-warbyparker

That’s not all though.

Rather than picking a wide net of popular influencers, the Warby Parker team set about targeting a much more creative audience with its agency, featuring artists, activists, bakers, and more, who need to wear their glasses in order to pursue their talents.

Not only does this lend itself well to the creative nature of the brand, but it also gives the brand an extensive library of visual content that they can reuse time and time again.

3. Lego – #LetsBuild campaign

Of course, our list of visual marketing examples wouldn’t be complete without tipping our hats to Lego’s #LetsBuild campaign. It’s a great illustration of the power of emotional storytelling through branded visual content.

And, although this move started all the way back in 2013, the visual content strategy still plays a key role in the brand’s marketing efforts today. 

Videos present a perfect medium for timeless storytelling – the 2013 #LetsBuild video launch is a perfect example of this.

There is nothing more ‘real’ than a father and son playing happily, together.

Lego is simply the means in getting to that future state; the brand is the guide in the story. And the happy ending is the emotional bond that’s been created.

The powerful ending wraps it all up, playing to several emotions:

‘I see a guy that will always go that extra brick with me.’

There’s no dad in the world that wouldn’t buy Lego after hearing this.

Through visual content marketing, Lego doesn’t sell small plastic bricks. It sells a bond between father and son. And that’s priceless.

4. Whole Foods Market – infographics 

A great way to connect with your audience through visual marketing is by use of infographics. Despite being prevalent in the B2B industry, they are a powerful way to engage B2C communities too.

Whole Foods Market (WFM) illustrates this perfectly across its social media profiles.

One use case for infographics is to communicate recipes in simple, easy to understand steps. The WFM team creates scrolling posts, illustrating the food and recipes. 

visual-marketing-example-wholefoodsmarket

Additionally, the brand gives a nod to its more humorous, “human” side by creating tongue-in-cheek infographics, like its ‘find your summer fruit sign’ graphic below.

visual-marketing-example-wholefoodsmarket

On top of this, WFM also creates infographics that align deeply with its values and narrative, such as reducing food waste or how to regrow plants.

5. TOMS – #WithoutShoes campaign

Sometimes, it can be incredibly powerful to step back from selling entirely.

And that’s exactly what TOMS did. 

The ethical footwear brand’s campaign encouraged its community to post photos of their bare feet on Instagram, using the hashtag #WithoutShoes. For each unique photo posted, TOMS pledged to five a new pair of shoes to a child in need.

visual-marketing-example-toms

Throughout this 16-day campaign, the TOMS social media team made sure to like and comment on each qualified photo, ensuring that the visual content campaign stayed front of mind.

While this campaign has been taken even further today, the original campaign saw participation from more than 30 countries and resulted in almost 300,000 children in need receiving a new pair of TOMS shoes.

visual-marketing-example-toms

The visual marketing campaign resulted in approximately 340,000 barefoot photos with the #WithoutShoes hashtag, reaching major celebrities and popular figures such as Charlize Theron and Richard Branson.

visual-marketing-example-toms

Visual marketing best practices

Ensure balance with your visual content

To create an effective visual marketing strategy, you’ll first need to define how you’ll source your visual content and how much of a balance you’ll strike between the different types of assets. As you may have guessed, the benefits vary for each.

For instance, with branded content that your team is responsible for producing or outsourcing, you’ll have far more control over the outcome than you would with user-generated content, or in some cases, even influencer content.

With brand-owned content, you can ensure your authenticity – your “realness”.

But with user-generated images or videos, you’ll benefit from a layer of social proof.

And influencer-owned assets? You should be able to hit the sweet spot of some control, while also giving your influencer the creative freedom to be true to his or her community.

Pay close attention to how you will create balance between these three sources of visual content. What works for your brand may not be as effective for another.

Reuse, repurpose, recycle

If you’re in the content marketing field, then we’re sure you’ll have heard about the magic of repurposing text-heavy content into rich, engaging visual media.

Whether that’s videos, infographics, illustrations or something else entirely, ensure you get maximum value out of your long-form assets by adapting them into visual content snippets to use across LinkedIn, Twitter, and other marketing channels.

By breaking your content down into smaller, more digestible and shareable insights, you’ll be able to reach a wider audience than you may previously have thought.

You can also embed this visual content across your website, as a way to add extra layers of social proof, inspiration or otherwise information for your audience. 

In exchange, you’ll be much better placed to build trust, purchasing confidence, and deepen your connections with your customers.

Create a consistent content experience

An issue that we see legacy brands run into is a lack of consistency between their marketing channels – especially when it comes to social profiles and websites.

Instead, it’s common for such brands to have influencer content only on Instagram, core brand content on YouTube, and articles and other marketing materials separate from the online buying journey across their website.

Rarely does a brand’s website content match up with the inspirational and influential visual content that can be found across its social media profiles.

Thing is, your shoppers want to see that content.

And you’ve already invested heavily in its creation.

It’s those remarkable brand videos, engaging influencer posts and trustworthy customer content that often make the difference between more sales and less sales.

Especially on your website. Right when someone’s hovering over the ‘buy now’ button.

How does your website content compare to your influential assets across social media?

It’s a simple – but powerful – shift in mindset.

Visual marketing meets visual commerce (the future)

Visual commerce is the next evolution of using your visual content effectively.

While visual marketing enables you to boost awareness and engage with your audience across a variety of channels such as YouTube, Instagram, your website, and email, it is still a challenge for marketers to tie this content directly to sales growth.

Sure, you can make educated guesses from the results of your campaigns, but it is a headache and a half to match the impact of your visual content to your revenue goals.

The advent of visual commerce, however, has put this problem firmly in the past.

While still within new and uncharted territory, visual commerce platforms give you a way to enrich individual buying journeys across your website, email, and mobile app by combining content intelligence and customer data.

In fact, the more advanced visual commerce platforms are able to tap into all your existing content, channels and data sources, enabling your brand to automatically deliver one-to-one personalized content experiences across your website.

Through machine learning, data-driven visual commerce platforms continually optimize the delivery of the right content, at the right time, and to the right shopper.

If you’ve already invested heavily into visual marketing, visual commerce provides an avenue to unlock the power of all of your content assets, pairing content with revenue so that you can prove its value and guide content creation based on sales impact.

Connect, compel, and convert with visual marketing

So, there we have it. A complete guide on visual marketing.

Hopefully, you’ll have uncovered some insights, deepened your understanding of visual content, and been inspired by some of our favorite visual marketing examples.  

Looking to future-proof your visual content marketing strategy? Find out how to master your content and create rich, relevant experiences that sell better with visual commerce. 

Download your free 20+ page guide now.

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